When I started out in the online freelancing (aka remote working) world, I realized that there are certain strategies that you must use in order to be able to make income freelancing AND to avoid losing your hard-earned money too.
If you don’t do it properly, it could take you a long time before you can start earning some decent money. Or worse still, you can make mistakes that end up costing you money! Please read the last tip in my post to hear my story.
Here are the strategies that I am currently using or recommend that you use. Please note that a lot of my examples are based on my freelancing experience with UpWork, one of the more popular freelancing websites.
#1 CHOOSE YOUR FREELANCING WEBSITE WISELY
Not all freelancing websites are created equal.
Some are more updated than others, some have more active employers, some have expectations of lower rates by freelancers, some only focus on smaller jobs and of course, they all have different commissions and fees.
As a start, I recommend that you go for a freelancing website that is relatively well-known (which means that employers also go there looking for freelancers). Have a look around to ensure that it is not a place where you have to frequently underbid for your work and the website doesn’t demand an extravagant membership fee.
If you are a newbie freelancer, I suggest that you choose a website that allows you to look for work without fees upfront and in return, it may take a cut from any pay that you get.
Once you become more confident in your abilities and you have a successful freelancing history or portfolio as proof to other employers of your abilities, then look for a reasonable fix-price monthly or annual membership site as you will find that as you get more and more work, the amount you pay in commissions will far outstrip the fix-price membership fees.
#2 CHOOSE YOUR SKILL CAREFULLY
If you want to be paid well for your work, you need to survey who your potential competitors are in the freelancing market. Just like every other business, freelancing is also a business.
There are certain types of skilled work that are heavily competitive and you won’t stand a chance of asking to be paid more (unless you seek clients directly outside of the online freelancing arena or build incredibly intimate, loyal relationships.) In particular, skills that can be easily done by freelancers from countries that have much, much lower living costs than yours will make it hard for you to compete at their low rates. Off the top of my head, skills such as simple web development, data entry and graphics seem to be very popular.
So far, I have found having the ability to write competently in English to be a useful competitive skill as many other freelancers are unable to compete in this arena due to their language limitations.
I would imagine that other skills such as business report writing, legal, accounting, transcription and translation work to be reasonably preserved from mounds of competition as well.
#3 SPEND TIME ON YOUR PROFILE
This tip is fairly obvious but you must heed it! In the beginning, it is a drag spending time on your profile as all you want to do is get out there and start earning some money right? But in order to earn income, you have to spend some time creating a profile that inspires credibility and trust.
As much as possible, choose a friendly but professional looking photo. It is not necessary to be in a business suit but DON’T use a photo that hides your eyes or shows you in a shifty pose. Some of the questions that employers ask when they go on these sites looking for freelancers are, “Does this person come across as competent? Does this person look honest? Will he or she be easy to work with?”
You also want to put in all your qualifications, degrees and diplomas. If you have something that can help demonstrate your skills, put those up as well. For example, I include links to articles that I have written.
Some of these freelancing websites also have free tests that you can take to demonstrate your skills. For example, UpWork has hundreds of tests and you can retake them every 30 days if you are not happy with your results. As a priority, you should focus on tests that are relevant to your skills but if you are not from an English-speaking country but you are competent in English, I seriously recommend that you take this test as another concern that employers from different countries have are, “Will we be able to communicate effectively with each other?” English is the most common language used on these sites.
#4 WORK OUT YOUR BUSINESS PLAN FIGURES
It’s helpful to come up with a simple and rough business plan of how much you want to earn in a year, how many hours you have available to work in a week, what your expenses are and how much you need to charge. You can move these figures around as you grow into the lifestyle.
After you have been freelancing for a while and you are aware of your conversion rates, you should start working out how many applications you need to make a week in order to get the amount of work that you want.
#5 APPLY FOR AS MANY JOBS AS YOU CAN
This is a rule of thumb that applies to almost any kind of sales. The more often you apply, the more likely you are to win projects, especially when it comes to freelancing online which is highly competitive.
The unavoidable fact is that you will probably be rejected a lot, at least, until you finally get some stellar reviews on your profile. But the more you apply, the more likely you are to get accepted for work.
When I first started, I applied for at least 10 jobs every week. When I got to about 50 jobs in a month, I started to see the projects rolling in.
And don’t think that my results were particularly bad. According to UpWork’s stats, my success rate was higher than the average freelancers!
#6 DON’T LOWER YOUR RATES
It is tempting when you are starting out to lower your hourly rate on your profile page. However, don’t lower it too much or you end up shooting yourself in the foot. A lot of employers assess how skilled they think you are by the rates you advertise on your profile. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should hike up your rates if you don’t honestly feel that you can produce that amount of value.
You can always put in a bid that is lower than your hourly rate if you really want to work on a particular project or you desperately need work but never put rates that are too low on your own static, advertised profile page.
#7 FOCUS ON STELLAR REVIEWS
When you are first starting out in the freelancing world, you need to focus on building credibility so that other employers will feel more confident about your abilities when you apply for jobs.
There are huge advantages to having stellar reviews on your profile. Not only do you get a greater conversion in your job applications, but the freelancing sites will also promote you to potential employers because they know you do a good job.
Some of the steps I took in the beginning to acquire stellar reviews was to go the extra mile with every contract. I would work for far below what I knew I was worth. In my first few jobs, I was paid $30 and I probably spent about 4 to 5 hours on the job. However, my employer loved me so much that he gave me 5 star reviews.
This of course, set me up for more work from other employers.
#8 LOOK FOR REPEAT BUSINESS
Some freelancing websites give importance to whether you get repeat business or not. For those that do, this increases your profile’s success rate and this in turn, leads to more profile visibility for you as a freelancer. A profile success rate (for example, in UpWork) is where you are rated on how good you are as a freelancer or how well you have carried out your previous work. Employers do look at this when deciding between freelancers.
So have this in the back of your mind when you look for jobs. Jobs that are able to give you repeat work may be worth your while, in order to increase your profile success rate overall.
#9 MOVE TO HOURLY RATES
I didn’t ever use this strategy myself but I did have a freelancer request that I use it to help him.
When I advertised for a freelancer to help me with some work on my website, I advertised a payment of a fixed sum. Out of the many freelancers who applied, I picked Daniel. However, instead of paying him a fixed sum, he requested that I pay his hourly rate but he would complete the job within the hours of the budget that I had available. He requested this because he wanted it to show on his profile that he had worked successfully at an hourly rate.
Hourly rates are definitely better than fixed sum payments. Often times, it is difficult to accurately estimate how much time is required to complete a job. In my experience, I have often ended up spending far more time on a fixed sum job than what I would be compensated, if I were being paid hourly.
#10 LOOK FOR BETTER EMPLOYERS
Although it is often better to have some work than no work at all, I disagree when it comes to bad employers. Not only do bad employers pay badly (or not at all) but also, you don’t want to end up in a dispute with an employer who ends up giving you a bad review. The bad review has a far greater impact on your earnings long term than not taking up the job at all.
You can check out an employers profile based on previous freelancers reviews of the employer. Although most freelancers give very good reviews to employers because they are thankful for the work they were given, you should definitely pay attention if an employer has a bad review because it normally takes a lot before a freelancer will give an employer a bad review.
#11 LOOK FOR LONG-TERM WORK
Long term jobs are wonderful because they promise consistent work without you having to apply for more jobs. It’s also often nice to get your teeth into something substantial and to gain some familiarity with your employers working requirements.
However, don’t rest on your laurels just because you found a long term employer. I have found in my experience that sometimes long term projects get stopped half way due to complications out of your control.
It’s often safer to have a few long term employers on your list who can consistently give you work so that you won’t have quiet weeks with no work.
#12 TURN DOWN WORK
You will get uninitiated invitations from employers to apply for their jobs. Often, this is because the employer has chosen an option to send out an email invite blast to all available freelancers, yourself included.
Don’t be afraid to turn down jobs that you don’t feel confident about or have no passion for. It’s better to do a job well and get a fantastic review, than to do a job badly and get a bad review.
#13 NEVER PAY OUT OF YOUR OWN POCKET UPFRONT
I don’t consider myself a person who is easily scammed but if you are not aware of these potential downfalls, you can end up losing money like I did.
So far, I have come across two ways to lose money as a freelancer.
In the first experience, a company put up a vague ad online promising good pay for simple admin work. I applied for it but asked for more details about the tasks involved.
I received an email that was riddled with many things that set off alarm bells in my head. There were spelling errors and the email looked automated. Also, the HR manager, Katy Miller (who was the person supposedly writing the email) claimed she was in Canada on a conference and was due to be back soon but needed the job done quickly in the meantime. The task required me to pay upfront to post something through the post office. I was immediately suspicious as I knew that no proper company would expect someone else to do work for them without a proper contract or to pay money from their pocket upfront so early in the working relationship.
I googled the name of the company online and found that there were many other similar named companies. I found the one that I thought was closest and rang the number. I spoke to the receptionist and asked her if a Katy Miller worked there. Her instant outburst surprised me, “OH! Are those people at it again? They keep using our company to scam others to pay them money!”
Suffice to say that I reported that company immediately to the freelancing website administrators to ban the company.
The second experience I had was truly unfortunate but I learnt a valuable lesson from it. I applied and was chosen to do student recruitment work for a mobile app business. The owner dealt directly with me and he wanted to pay me a fixed sum for every student that I recruited to work for him for one week. At the end of the week, if the student reached their targets, I would get paid bonuses. He did not want me to manage the students during the week as he felt that he could not afford my hourly rate. I did not feel too comfortable about the fact that my bonuses were dependent on the skills of someone I didn’t know but I calculated that it was fair pay for my recruitment work, even if I never got the bonuses.
I started putting up recruitment ads on free sites and found that none of them worked. No one responded to them. I reported this to the owner and told him that I was going to try paid ads. I found a relatively cheap student job site to post up ads and the job applications started pouring in. Phew! That was a relief as I wanted to do my task well.
However, the problems did not entirely go away. As I passed these students over to the owner to manage, they either dropped out or never responded to him. My personal opinion was because he started asking too much of them.
In any case, when I asked the owner to pay me some money for the students that I had recruited for him so far, he refused, citing that he would only pay me if the student made it to the end of the week (ie. entirely dependent on his management skills). I realized that it was time to cut my losses so I ended the contract and absorbed the money I had spent on recruitment.
The valuable lesson that I learnt was, never, ever pay upfront for expenses. Always request that the employer pay you in advance for expenses so that in case anything goes wrong or the contract fails, you won’t be put out of pocket.
You could say that I should have been more careful but I always assumed that the employer would carry out the agreement as advertised. I never thought that he would try and change our agreement mid-way through the contract without my consent.
So there you are, the 12 tips for the online freelancing world, based on my own experiences.
If this article did not intimidate you but rather, inspired you, then get started with 100+ freelancing websites for you to choose from!